Born in Chinadoddigallu village in Andhra Pradesh, self-taught artist Gattem Venkatesh specializes in carving miniature sculptures on tips of pencils, chalk pieces, crayons, bamboo, matchsticks, etc. and making architectural models using waste materials. He holds a Bachelors of Architecture (2019) degree and completed his Masters in Urban Planning in 2021; he was awarded an honourable Doctorate (Arts) from the International Peace University, Germany, 2019. Winner of the Limca Book of Records (2014), he also won the Guinness World Record, 2017, for his unique art. His works have been exhibited in various parts of the world and he regularly conducts workshops for students to introduce them to his unique miniature art.
1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?
GV: One day I’d gone on a casual visit to meet artists working at Etikoppaka which is very close to my home. Seeing the Etikoppaka craft, which blends a variety of colours on wood, excited my imagination and curiosity. My jaw dropped as I saw each one of the pieces of the unique craft.
I showered questions enthusiastically to the artists and the answers I received taught me a valuable lesson: "With art, there are no rules or boundaries and everyone is free to do what he or she likes to do."
After this, I’ve never looked back or have had second thoughts towards pursuing art. I decided to create a world of my own from what I love. When I was just 14 years old, I created a miniature of Lord Ganesha out of glass bangles. My parents were awe-struck at my hands-on art. They started encouraging me and offered their complete support and pushed me to take this hobby seriously. Even after eleven years now, I continue to get support from my parents.
I chose to do something different and become an artist. What started as a mere hobby gave rise to my unique micro art practice. From finding my muse and inspiration to coming face to face with life's purpose, I’m now fully devoted to my art. When nominated for the Padma Shri, I had a chance to meet the former Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee who encouraged me to follow my dreams.
2. What art projects are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?
GV: Currently, our studio – Venky Art – is working on a few micro art projects using pencils leads and waste materials and building architecture models.
3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?
GV: Yes, I always think new trends lead to greater creativity. In the realm of micro sculptures – which is what I understand, explore and delve in – boundaries melt and fuse, and embrace all kinds of art. I regularly collaborate with architects, engineers, wood artists, painters, fashion designers, bamboo artisans, and stone sculptors.
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
GV: I can only speak from my own position. For me there has always been an emotive, expressive approach to my art. So, yes, art is about self-expression, which gives me an opportunity to bring my art to the world outside – not just the concept, but performing the act of miniature art itself.
I cannot see art devoid of emotions. It is through the self that one can see the world. We are our own prism to see and perceive things, situations and people around us. In this sense, society is an extension of us and we are a part of it. How far an artist stretches this societal link is subjective. I have not done it consciously, but if I were to, my expression would certainly be coloured by my own experiences in society.
5. Where do you create your art (workplace/studio)? What is your process?
GV: I have a studio – Venky Art – where I work mostly using micro materials like pencils toothpicks, matchsticks, etc. The studio is well situated on the top floor of my home. It saves me time navigating around Visakhapatanam. Making notes, both visual and textual, reading and studying on the materials I use, are all important parts of the work process. Practically, all art and craft are essential parts of my work and I like to do a lot of pencil drawings for my micro sculpture and painting. Often, these drawings themselves become very engaging and could take as much time as a work in ink would. In my miniatures, I also work with oils on canvas and on paper. Each medium demands its own process and I feel the need to detach myself from the other, while working with one.
6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?
GV: Regarding the business of art, I am not the right person to answer this question. To talk about what was created during the period, I think a lot of works around the pandemic have been produced. I see it as an artistic rescue. Artists are fortunate to have the space to vent out their phobias and experiences of trauma. In a way, it is a significant, temporal documentation of this unimaginable time. But gradually, I think as the normal comes back into our lives, the art of Covid times will become a valuable part of our history. I utilized mostly this Covid time for my art and also completed a few online orders that I received through the social media.
7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice. Does it get reflected
in your art?
GV: I continue to work industriously as an ant in the same way as I have always done even after attaining fame and many prestigious awards. Yet, I do spare time to visit to art exhibition, attend various school functions when I’m invited as a chief guest, and to teach students about art.
(All images are courtesy of the artist, Gattem Venkatesh.)
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